Some of you might not know this, but I’m an avid knitter. I do everything from cabled hats and fingerless gloves, to lace shawls and sweaters, and I have what some might call a lot of yarn. One thing that I find helpful for understanding my research process and personality (if you will) from knitting is the common discussion about “process” and “product” knitters.
Process knitters are people who enjoy knitting for knitting sake. They choose patterns and yarns they like to work with, but aren’t wedded to finishing anything. In contrast, product knitters are those who knit for the sake of finishing the knit item. They often focus on one project at a time and knit it to completion.
Personally, I’m a process knitter. I have WAY too many projects all sitting around at various stages of completion. I also have a whole large bin of things I finished knitting and then never seamed up or added buttons to because…I’m a process knitter. I also have no problem just ripping out a whole sweater and starting over because I enjoy the process of knitting that much. Not that you asked, but I have literally reknit a sweater by unraveling a prior version of the sweater I knit when my first take at a sweater turned out too short.
So how does this relate to my research? You can see the exact same patterns in my research process. I love data and analysis, so I have too many projects in early stages where I got excited about a new data source or a new analysis tool I figured out and dove in, but still haven’t finished a full paper. I collect data and research ideas in the same way that I collect yarn and new patterns for future projects. I have no problem doing a brand new analysis or going back to the data analysis phase of work in any form at any point in the process (and I mean even when I thought I was done and Reviewer 2 asks for one more change in a model).
This research “personality” certainly comes with its challenges. I have to force myself to focus on what’s at hand and not be distracted. My system for that is to let myself go down the rabbit hole only long enough to record a new research idea in Evernote, bookmark a new data source, or memo about a new paper idea. That gets it out of my head and helps me move onto what I really need to be focused on.
But there are also perks. I always have more than one project going on and PLENTY of research projects to turn to when it’s time to come up with the next idea. Whether it’s my Evernote with hundreds of tagged research ideas, the data sources I may (or may not) have downloaded when I got excited about their existence, or the halfway complete data analysis that I’ve never gotten back to completing, I have works-in-progress to turn to when it’s time to pick up the next project. As Jo VanEvery notes, “Multiple projects can lead to more finished projects.”
So what kind of researcher are you?